Joe Biden’s gun violence prevention office offers a glimmer of hopeLynn Norment 

Gun Rights

Despite what Americans want, gun control legislation usually is stymied in Washington. And those who block such legislation almost never suffer political consequences.

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  • Lynn Norment, a columnist for The Commercial Appeal, is a former editor for Ebony Magazine.

On Sept. 22, when I realized that President Joe Biden was making a historic announcement, I turned up the volume on the television and gave him my attention. What was this federal office he was creating?

When I understood that he was establishing the first ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, I was pleased and hopeful.

I listened intently as Biden explained that the office will have four essential responsibilities, including to expedite the implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed last year and other previously announced executive actions on gun control.

The new office also will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities affected by gun violence. That will include financial assistance and mental health care, “the same way FEMA responds to natural disasters,” he explained.

The new office also will identify new executive actions that can be taken “within our legal authority to reduce gun violence.”

The fourth responsibility is to expand the administration’s coalition of partners in cities and states across the country.  

“There comes a point,” the President said, “where our voices are so loud, our determination is so clear that our effort can no longer be stopped. . . We’ve reached that point today, in my view, where the safety of our kids from gun violence is on the ballot.”

Biden’s efforts on gun safety face backlash from NRA-backed politicians

While I am hopeful that this forward move will deliver some positive results, I am still left with a heavy heart, for I know the challenges that have hampered progress in getting deadly weapons, especially assault weapons, off the streets.

I know that the National Rifle Association has a strong hold on so many elected officials that even though gun violence is destroying their constituents, they still can’t muster enough common sense and backbone to stand up for what is right for them and the country.

I am still optimistic about the new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, but I realize that the president can only do so much to right this wrong without the support of legislation. And with the country divided on politics, especially gun politics, what really needs to get done will not happen anytime soon.

Gun control has proven to be effective in other countries

Right here in Tennessee, the governor called a special session of the state legislature to deal with gun violence issues, but not enough was accomplished because too many of our state legislators are stuck on guns and don’t seem to care how this tragedy is impacting our state’s residents.

Even when it hits close to home – their communities, their towns, even their families – they are blind to the fact that much of the violence can be mitigated with some common-sense measures, such as passing red-flag laws, requiring a license for gun owners, and banning assault weapons.

In other countries, gun control has proven to be effective. Studies repeatedly have shown that when countries tighten gun control laws, it leads to fewer guns in the hands of private citizens, and that results in less gun violence. Mass shootings in some countries have led to officials imposing new restrictions on gun ownership. Consequently, mass shootings decreased considerably; homicides and suicides also decreased.

Americans say they want reasonable restrictions on firearms

According to the New York Times, expanded background checks for guns purchased routinely receive more than 80% to 90% support in polling.  

Nationally, for decades a majority of Americans have supported stricter gun laws. In a 2022 poll, 55% of participants favored a ban on the manufacture, possession and sale of semiautomatic guns. Most respondents supported measures such as raising the legal age at which people can purchase certain firearms and enacting a 30-day waiting period for gun sales.

Despite what Americans want, gun control legislation usually is stymied in Washington. And those who block such legislation almost never suffer political consequences.

Nevertheless, the new office established by the White House provides a flicker of hope that gun violence prevention will get more attention and will decrease.

The Tennessee Three offer a model for inspiring hope for change

Just as hope was inspired by our three Tennessee legislators – Justin Pearson of Memphis, Justin Jones of Nashville and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville –  when they took to the floor of the State House in April to protest gun violence. Though the two young men were expelled, Johnson survived expulsion by one vote. Pearson and Jones were re-elected to the legislature.

With conviction, the three legislators more recently again spoke out at the state Capitol in support of sensible gun legislation and championed people who protested at the State House in support of gun control legislation after their lives were shattered by a school shooting in Nashville.

Because of their gun control advocacy, the three legislators were invited to the White House. Gloria Johnson is now campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat held by Marsha Blackburn.

Continuing to show his support for young gun-control advocates, President Biden was introduced at the White House event by U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida. Frost, 26, the youngest member of Congress, was an organizer of the March for Our Lives advocacy group, founded by students who survived the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida.

Asked often what got him involved “in this work” of gun-control politics, Frost said he responds, “I didn’t want to get shot in school.”       

That is the sentiment of millions of other American youths. They don’t want to get shot at school, walking to school, at a grocery store or the mall, or playing in their neighborhoods.

Children should focus on reading and writing not ducking and covering

Vice President Kamala Harris, who pursued gun safety measures as California’s top prosecutor, will oversee this new White House office. At the Rose Garden announcement attended by hundreds who have survived school shootings or lost loved ones to gun violence, Harris told of how far too many children have participated in active-shooter drills at their elementary and middle schools.

She told of how 1 in 5 people have lost a family member to gun violence, about how 120 people are killed by a gun every day. And how Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to be victims of gun violence and homicides, and Latino Americans are twice as likely.

In addition, according to the Gun Violence Archive (September 26, 2023), there have been 31,866 gun-violence deaths this year and 520 mass shootings. At least 1296 children age-17 and younger have died from gun violence.

“These are not simply statistics,” Harris said. “These are our children, our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers.”

If the Biden Administration acts diligently on the four priorities of the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, that will be a positive move in the right direction. It will provide help for the families who are grieving over the deaths of their children and other loved ones. It will provide a ray of sunshine on a gloomy situation.

For as President Biden said, “We all want our kids to have the freedom to learn how to read and write instead of duck and cover.”

Lynn Norment, a columnist for The Commercial Appeal, is a former editor for Ebony Magazine.

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